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A Guide to Tracing Your Family History using the Census (ePub)

Family History P&S History > British History P&S History > By Century > 19th Century P&S History > By Century > 20th Century

By Emma Jolly
Imprint: Pen & Sword Family History
Series: Tracing Your Ancestors
File Size: 25.5 MB (.epub)
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9781526755230
Published: 17th August 2020


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The census is an essential survey of our population, and it is a source of basic information for local and national government and for various organizations dealing with education, housing, health and transport. Providing the researcher with a fascinating insight into who we were in the past, Emma Jolly’s new handbook is a useful tool for anyone keen to discover their family history. With detailed, accessible and authoritative coverage, it is full of advice on how to explore and get the most from the records.

Each census from 1841 to 1911 is described in detail, and later censuses are analysed too. The main focus is on the census in England and Wales, but censuses in Scotland, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are all examined and the differences explained. Particular emphasis is placed on the rapidly expanding number of websites that offer census information, making the process of research far easier to carry out. The extensive appendix gathers together all the key resources in one place.

Emma Jolly’s guide is an ideal introduction and tool for anyone who is researching the life and times of an ancestor.

Featured in

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - Issue 180, Summer 2021

With the 2021 Census topical, and with an eye to the release of the 1921 Census next January, this is an opportune publication which presents a history of the census and its uses. It covers all of the British Isles and is a valuable handbook offering advice on how to explore and interpret the various census returns. The author gives an outline history of censuses from the earliest one recorded in Babylonia c.3800 BC through the well-known ones of the Romans and Normans and into the 18th and 19th century developments in Western Europe and America.

The British censuses from 1841 to 1911 are covered in detailed chapters, including placing each in its historic and social contexts. There are shorter summaries of the later years. The author explains the methods used to compile censuses, how and why they were taken and used, and the variation in contents between them with examples.

She places emphasis on the expanding availability of census information on websites, to which there is a reference list. The appendices include lists of census dates, Registrars General, useful archives and a glossary, bibliography and detailed notes and sources referenced to the chapters.

Bristol and Avon Family History Society

Although this book is aimed primarily at family historians, it will also be helpful for researchers in other disciplines who are interested in census information, and especially to FACHRS members. It is to be recommended to everyone using census schedules for the first time.

Family and Community Historical Research Society

A good reference book for anybody tracing their family history. Many useful tips on gaining information from the census of yesteryear.

NetGalley, Nicola Barker

Reviewed by Editor Helen Tovey

This extremely useful, essential genealogy read by Emma Jolly came out last year, but for some reason I missed it (I think we can blame the pandemic). But perhaps this is a happy accident, as over the months to come we will certainly be thinking about ‘all things census’… This is very much a book for each of our shelves: from novice researcher needing to learn about this most useful of sources, to experienced family history sleuth wishing to fine-tune their census research knowledge… It really is a book that will help you see the census with new eyes and think: ‘Have I got every last clue from it? What more might I learn?’

Family Tree, April 2021

Referenced in 'Resources' part of article on The Census 1841 as featured by

WDYTYA? Magazine, April 2021

Emma Jolly has written a cracking guide to tracing your (UK and Irish) family through census returns. Family historians today are spoiled rotten: so much online and easily accessible at the click of a mouse. I still remember my excitement on discovering my great-grandfather on the 1881 census when it came online in 2004. I was living in India then, 5000 miles away from my great-grandfather's home address, and here he was, brought back to life.

In the last seventeen years all of the surviving national census returns up to and including 1911 have been digitised and made available online, and Emma Jolly takes us through each one, pointing out the key points and showing readers where they can find them.

This is an extremely useful book to have handy, a great resource for amateur and seasoned family historians alike, and the section dealing with pre-1841 census returns is very useful indeed and, in my opinion, worth the cover price alone. Look out for an updated version of this guide after the 1921 Census is published in 2022.

5 stars

Read the full review here

Paul Nixon

Article: ‘Take a master class on census searching – A new book helps family historians get to grips with census records’, words by Barry Shurlock

Southern Daily Echo, 12th February 2021

Article: ‘Master class on census searching’, words by Barry Shurlock

Hampshire Chronicle, 7th January 2021

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ The best book on the census currently available

Click here to read the full review

Amazon review

Review by Paul Blake

... if you want an in-depth, well-written and well-constructed guide then you couldn't find better. Unquestionably, this is a valuable addition to the bookshelf of any serious family historian.

WDYTYA? Magazine, November 2020

This is a great resource for anyone wanting to trace their British ancestors. I love looking at old census documents and this is fantastic for helping understand how they work and what information you can yield. I'm about to restart my family tree journey so this book has proven invaluable.

NetGalley, Kirsty White

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a brilliant resource for all the census (and more) when tracing your family history. Although I have a good knowledge of the census, this book gave me even more resources and avenues to follow.

Highly recommended to anyway who wants to understand the census more with a view to tracing their family tree.

NetGalley, Trudie Moore

If it has been a long time since you read a book about the census then Emma Jolly's book would be a very sound choice – you'll not only discover new facts about these key records, if you’re anything like me you'll also be reminded of many things that you've forgotten!

Read the full review here

Lost Cousins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a really good resource to have if you are thinking about tracing your family history. I also thought that it gave a good account of the history of the census.

NetGalley, Julie Hosford

The links in this books at first class and the author has done an absolutely fantastic job in writing and research that it is ‘Bible’ for Genealogy. Now yes, the vast majority of links are through the internet, but there is postal/written help. The book contains an excellent notes, glossary, appendix and archival section at the back of the book. The book also contains many picture/photograph information which help form the guide and makes things a lot easier, especially for the older reader who might not be as tech savvy as younger readers. An excellent 5 star book added to the stable.


Read the full review here

UK Historian

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A comprehensive guide to the historical population census of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The first chapter offers a thorough review of the historical reasons for a census being taken from ancient times to pre WWII. Each subsequent chapter focuses on a population census taken in the UK from 1801 to 1945 by first explaining the historical context, followed by a full description of the details included in the census. Care is taken to orient the reader to the counties and parishes included in each census. Sections of each chapter include finding aids and up to date online resources with web addresses. The problems or drawbacks of each census are also discussed. Overall, an excellent resource for genealogists researching their English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh ancestors.

NetGalley, Nydia Hanna

For family historians a really good reference book which gives plenty of insights into getting the most out of census records. It answers many questions that you come across in the search through the records and is well worth having on your bookshelf.

NetGalley, Gordon Jefrries

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I felt that his book is a great resource for tracking UK census data and a wonderful tool for anyone looking for their UK ancestors.The instructions for analyzing and understanding each type of census and how to glean the most information out of it was well thought out and easy to use.

NetGalley, Dale Dewitt

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I eagerly look forward to any new Pen and Sword publications as I know how beneficial they have been to my family history research.
I have found Emma Jolly particularly informative in her past works and this is no exception. Even as someone who has been compiling their family tree for a while now I seem to find something of use in every new publication.
A definite recommendation to anyone wanting to improve their knowledge using the essential tool of censuses.

NetGalley, Alison Bevington
 Emma Jolly

About Emma Jolly

Emma Jolly is a professional genealogist who deals with a wide range of family history research. She is an expert on genealogical problem solving, and she has made a special study of the British in India. She writes regularly for family history publications. Her most recent books are Family History for Kids, Tracing Your British Indian Ancestors and My Ancestor Was a Woman at War: A Guide to Sources for Family Historians.

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